Virgin Australia has pressed the pause button on the launch of its new Boeing 737 transcontinental business class, but says it will be ready to go as more Airbus A330s make their way to Asia.
The airline’s top secret “Perth product” for its Boeing 737 jets – which would take over from the larger twin-aisle A330s and their international-grade business class on east-west routes – was previously tipped to be revealed this month, ahead of flights in the later half of 2018.
However, Virgin Australia Airlines group executive Rob Sharp tells Australian Business Traveller that “there’s not an immediate need” for what Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti has described as a “quantum leap in domestic business class."
“Hong Kong remains our primary focus, and the Airbus A330s are a perfect vehicle for that market, and at some point when slots become available (for Sydney-Hong Kong or Brisbane-Hong Kong) – and we’re certainly aiming for them – we will put A330s onto that route.”
“But at the moment the (Perth product) decision’s not needed because we haven’t got those Hong Kong slots.”
Sharp agrees with the assessment that the Boeing 737 transcontinental business class is now “not quite as urgent”, and says he expects “there will always be A330s” on the east-west route.
“How many will be the question. Over the last couple of years all airlines have pulled back on (east-west) wide-body capacity purely because demand has dropped off after the mining boom, but we’re not going to take all the A330s off the route.”
This has also reduced the pressure to roll out a new Boeing 737 business class – potentially with flat beds and direct aisle access – and while Sharp concedes that the rollout is “on hold”, he later suggests “it’s not as much ‘on hold’ as that the timing of the investment is going to be driven buy the timing of international growth. We’re not rushing into it.”
Sharp wouldn’t be drawn on if Virgin Australia has settled on the design of the new transcontinental business class.
"We’ve got nothing to announce in terms of the product, all I can say is ‘Yes we do have plans in terms of what we can do, because product is important across that east-west segment particularly on overnights”… although he jokes that “people are a bit spoiled with the wide-bodies.”
Space to sleep in single-aisle jets
Only a handful of airlines have moved beyond conventional business class recliners on single-aisle jets such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 series, most notable US carrier JetBlue's Mint premium cabin, which combines lie-flat seats with personal suites on US transcontinental routes...
... a version of which has also featured in Boeing's promotional material for its 737 MAX jets, shown below...
... and recently the lie-flat seats in Flydubai's Boeing 737 MAX jets.
Meanwhile, Thompson Aero Seating is busy promoting its Vantage Solo design – which combines lie-flat beds and direct aisle access – to airlines plotting their next generation of Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 business class.